The Legal Corner is a regular blog post brought to you by Daniel McCarey and Allison McPherson of Youth Represent. Youth Represent provides free legal services to over 1,000 young people in NYC every year, including to patients at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center as part of our medical-legal partnership. Now, they’re bringing their legal knowledge directly to you in regular posts about legal issues that impact teens and young adults.
Often, young people with criminal records are convinced that they’ll never find a decent job—that no matter what efforts they put in, employers will see that they’ve been arrested and automatically eliminate them from the hiring pool.
But this just isn’t true. We can’t promise that you’ll never face discrimination because of what’s on your RAP sheet. But there are laws in place to help prevent this. If you live in NYC, here’s what you should know about applying for a job when you have a criminal record.
1. Understand what your potential employer will see.
The most important thing you should do when applying for jobs is know what’s on your RAP sheet (or criminal record). This way, you know what potential employers will see if they run a background check. It also lets you see if there are any errors on your RAP sheet that need to be corrected.
Most employers will see only public information. This includes misdemeanor and felony convictions (unless your case resulted in a Youthful Offender adjudication), and all open cases in criminal court (a summons court ticket probably won’t show up, for example). For certain jobs (such as in law enforcement), employers can see more than just your public record. They will also be able to also see cases that were sealed. Learn more about RAP sheets.
If you’re 16-24 years old and live in any of the five boroughs, Youth Represent can get you a copy of your RAP sheet. Contact us here.
2. Know the law.
Laws about what and when employers can ask about your criminal history vary by state and city. In New York City, the Fair Chance Act prohibits employers from asking about your criminal history until they’ve made a conditional offer of employment. This means they cannot ask about your criminal record on job applications, or in interviews before you’re offered a job.
If they decide to take back their job offer after learning about your criminal record, the employer must follow a specific set of steps. They CANNOT deny you employment based solely on the fact that you’ve been convicted of a crime. Instead, they must look at a set of factors to determine whether your convictions have a direct relationship to the job you’re applying for, or whether your criminal background creates an unreasonable risk for people or property. Then, they must send you a formal letter that details the factors that they are concerned about, and the specific ways that your criminal record reflect those factors. You can find more details about these factors and the steps the employer must follow here.
A recent change in the law means that an employer is no longer allowed to deny you a job on the basis of a case that has been adjourned in contemplation of dismissal (this is called an ACD.) If you have been denied a job because of an ACD, contact Youth Represent to speak with a lawyer.
3. Never lie.
Once you’ve been offered a job, the employer can ask whether you have any criminal convictions, and/or run a background check. Do not lie or intentionally misrepresent yourself.
This means that if they ask, you must tell the employer about any misdemeanor or felony convictions. If you are denied a job because an employer says that you misrepresented your criminal record information and are 16-24 years old in any of the five boroughs, please reach out to Youth Represent ASAP! You can also contact the Commission on Human Rights by calling 311.
4. There are certain cases you should NOT disclose.
You should not disclose (and should not be asked about) the following three things:
- Arrests where you were never convicted.
- Convictions that are sealed.
- Most cases adjourned in contemplation of dismissal (ACD).
This means that if the employer asks whether you’ve ever been convicted of a crime, and your case has been sealed and dismissed, for example, you can legally say no. This is NOT a lie.
In addition, you do not need to disclose cases you may have been involved in that you weren’t charged and convicted. If you were arrested, for example, but never fingerprinted and processed, then you do not need to disclose the arrest. If you are unsure about the outcome of a case, say that to the employer.
Your RAP sheet will help you understand how your cases ended, and what you need to disclose.
5. Don’t over explain, and keep it positive.
When you’re trying to be honest and upfront, it’s easy to accidentally overshare. However, your employer doesn’t need all the details about your case. If you’re asked whether you have any criminal convictions, keep your answer short and simple and don’t volunteer information that you’re not asked for. Instead, frame it in a way that shows that you’ve matured and grown: “Yes, I had a misdemeanor conviction in 2015. Since then, I’ve held down three jobs and graduated from high school.”
6. Document and report violations of the law.
If you’re in NYC and you see a job application that asks about your criminal history, take a screenshot or photo.
If you’re asked about your criminal history in an interview before being offered a job, document what happened. Create a note on your phone. Write down the date, time, name of the person who interviewed you, and the name of the business. Take a photo of the business card of the person who interviewed you. Write down a short narrative of exactly what the interviewer said to you, and how you responded.
If you’re denied a job based on your criminal record, it doesn’t have to end there. Contact the NYC Commission on Human Rights. You can call 311, ask for the Commission on Human Rights, and choose to either leave an anonymous tip, or file a complaint.
7. Remember: You CAN get a job.
Many people think that once they’re convicted of a crime, that’s it—they’ll never be able to get a decent job again. But that isn’t the case. NYC’s Fair Chance Act is designed to give people who’ve been convicted of a crime just that—a fair chance at employment.
If you’re 16-24 years old and live in any of the five boroughs, Youth Represent can get you a copy of your RAP sheet and may be able to offer additional legal help. Contact us here.
If you’re already a patient at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, you can get free legal help from Youth Represent by visiting room D8, emailing MSAHC@youthrepresent.org or calling (212) 423-2833.
Daniel McCarey is a graduate of the City University of New York (CUNY) Law School. He is dedicated to advocating for marginalized and oppressed communities within the framework of collective liberation. Daniel has experience in a number of legal and social services including, but not limited to, special education law, criminal law, benefits, and healthcare.
Allison McPherson is a paralegal with Youth Represent, with prior experience in social work and children’s mental health. She is passionate about partnering with young people who are disenfranchised to foster a sense of empowerment in a broken system. Allison approaches client work with a trauma-informed lens and motivational interviewing techniques.